Lawmakers are applauding what they see as President Obama’s “new emphasis” on the Middle East in his second term after Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed this week that he would be headed there ahead of the president’s trip in March.

The twin visits are a tacit acknowledgment that the troubled region’s problems – the civil war in Syria, Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process – continue to dominate U.S. foreign policy. Lawmakers say the timing, coming after elections in both the United States and Israel, is ripe for Obama and his top diplomat to visit both Israel and her neighbors and set the tone for the next four years.

“If this signifies a new emphasis on the region, I think it’s a good thing for the country,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee.

Continue reading →